DOWD ON WIVES! Its wrong when hopefuls discuss their wives. And its wrong when they fail to discuss them:
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2004
BUT WHO WILL PROBE THE KERRY PROBES: Sign us up today with Paul Glastris, editor of the Washington Monthly. I've never understood why the Kerry campaign hasnt made more of the candidate's record in the Senate of holding tough, thankless, let-the chips-fall-as-they-may investigations of the rich and powerful, Glastris writes. He singles out Kerrys probe of BCCI, although there were several others:
GLASTRIS (10/20/04): Especially impressive was his pursuit of BCCI, the Arab-owned international bank which turned out to be a massive criminal enterprise that enabled terrorists, including Osama bin Laden, to finance their activities—until it was shut down, largely thanks to Kerry's relentless efforts. The campaign's weird refusal to talk about achievements like the BCCI hearings has allowed Bush to paint Kerry as a do-nothing legislator with no record of achievement during 20 years in the Senate.We have puzzled about this ourselves. Indeed, when one reads that Boston Globe bio of Kerry, the description of his Senate career is quite impressive—because of these probes. In his post, Glastris links to a Newsweek report which explains why the campaign has shunned this topic. Should we string up [Bob] Shrum after Kerry loses, or beat the rush and do it now? Glastris asks.
Glastris wonders why the campaign hasnt discussed Kerrys Senate probes. But lets ask another question—why hasnt the national press spent more time on this topic? The Bush campaign has endlessly claimed that Kerry has a do-nothing Senate record—and the press corps has responded with silence. That important probe of BCCI? According to a Nexis search, the following passage represents the Washington Posts fullest exploration of the matter:
BALZ (2/8/04): Kerry's high-profile investigations, such as his probes of the deposed leader of Panama, Gen. Manuel Noriega, and the scandal-ridden Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), have led some colleagues to complain privately that he has been more of a show horse than a workhorse.As noted, that article appeared in early February. The New York Times has done marginally better on this topic, but that papers treatment of Kerrys probes also appeared on February 8. As for the Associated Press, this seems to be the APs only treatment of Kerrys BCCI probe:
BENAC (1/31/04): Kerry has built his Senate reputation more on pursuing investigations than crafting legislation. For example, he led a subcommittee probe into the Bank of Credit & Commerce International scandal and subsequently wrote a book that helped document how international criminal and terrorist networks work together.That appeared at the end of a longer article—an article written in January.
As the Bush camp has trashed Kerrys do-nothing record, it isnt just the Kerry campaign that has failed to offer background information. But this is typical of the way this campaign has been covered. In our view, the most striking part of the 04 coverage has been the astounding latitude given to Swift Boat Vet John ONeill. But the press corps disinterest in substantive writing has been quite impressive as well. As noted, the New York Times found a prominent place for that worthless report on the cost of Kerrys worldly goods (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/11/04). But other, real topics have gone unexplored. Glastris is right to question the Kerry camps conduct. But his colleagues have slumbered hard too.
ANOTHER MUCH-BRUITED EXAMPLE: And yes, weve yelled about this all year—but alas, to no great result. For example, consider David Sangers report in yesterdays Times, the report we praised for its new, advanced method (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/19/04). President Bush was out on the trail, hammering Kerrys feckless ways. Several times in his speech, Sanger wrote, Mr. Bush used the term weak or weakness to describe Mr. Kerry, saying the senator has a record of trying to weaken American intelligence. Yikes! Kerry has a record of trying to weaken American intelligence? A bit later on, Sanger tried to explain. But his efforts were too little—and much, much too late:
SANGER (10/19/04): Mr. Bush attacked what he called ''irresponsible'' legislation proposed by Mr. Kerry in 1994 to reduce the nation's intelligence budget by $6 billion, and said he then tried to cut the intelligence budget again in 1995.What is wrong with that precis? Lets begin with something thats right. Sanger tries to put Kerrys proposals into a larger context. Yes, Kerry proposed reductions, he says, but Bushs own CIA head proposed larger cuts in 1995. On the other hand, Sangers presentation may simply be slick. How about Kerrys proposal in 1994? Did Goss or the GOP propose a larger reduction than that? Sanger doesnt remember to say. He implies that Goss proposed bigger cutbacks than Kerry, but never actually says so.
But then, much of what Sanger writes here is worthless. For example, note the number he uses. In 1994, Kerry proposed reduc[ing] the nation's intelligence budget by $6 billion, he writes. But such a number has no meaning without a time frame and a baseline budget. It sounds like a significant cut, but how big was the annual intelligence budget? Over how many years would this cut have been spread? In short, what percentage of the intelligence budget did that $6 billion represent? Its pointless to include a number like this without including this background information. That, of course, is exactly why Bush throws this number around on the trail. It sounds like some sort of giant cut, so he throws the number to outraged rubes. Sangers work is equally weak when he gives us the unexplained number.
But Sangers work is frustrating for another reason. As readers may recall, we began discussing this topic in March, when Bush began making the remarkable claim that Kerry tried to gut the intelligence services with these budget proposals. The Washington Post challenged that claim at the time, but Walter Pincus used a different number—the number from 1995:
PINCUS (3/12/04): Bush is correct that Kerry on Sept. 29, 1995, proposed a five-year, $1.5 billion cut to the intelligence budget. But Bush appears to be wrong when he said the proposed Kerry cutabout 1 percent of the overall intelligence budget for those yearswould have gutted intelligence. In fact, the Republican-led Congress that year approved legislation that resulted in $3.8 billion being cut over five years from the budget of the National Reconnaissance Officethe same program Kerry said he was targeting.At that time, Pincus described a modest, one percent cut—the cut proposed in 1995. This morning, Sanger discusses a cut proposed in 1994—but he fails to put the size of the cut into context by giving a time frame or percentage.
Did Kerry try to gut intelligence? Did he try to weaken American intelligence? These are remarkable charges by Bush—and hes made the charges all year long. But heaven help the American voter who has tried to get his background information by reading the Post and the Times! In March, Katharine Seelye presented an incoherent treatment of this topic in the Times (links below), and the two big papers have never really sorted out the basic facts. The Times did arrange for page-one coverage of how much Kerrys wind-surf gear costs. But did Kerry try to gut intelligence? Or has Bush been making a nasty, fake charge? Simply put, no one reading the New York Times has received the real facts on this topic.
In yesterdays piece, Sanger made a modest attempt to fact-check and truth-squad Bushs speech. But Bush has been making this remarkable charge since March, and even yesterday, Sanger offered a fumbling analysis. Do readers deserve to get the facts about such crucial, central charges? The Times is scrambling to fact-check—now. Their efforts are much, much too late.
VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Pincus discussed this matter in March (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/12/04). Seelye also discussed the topic in March (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/22/04 and 3/23/04). Were no longer sure that we read her analysis of Kerrys 1994 proposal correctly. But thats because her treatment was incoherent (and still is, rereading today). Bush has made a remarkable charge, and hes made it all year long. Heaven help the American voter who has tried to sort it out in the Times! They did give you the facts about wind-surfing gear. But lets face it—thats what really concerns them.
DOWD ON WIVES: How empty is the great Maureen Dowd? Last week, she slammed Bush and Kerry for discussing their wives in their third debate (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/16/04). It was a contest to see who was closer to his family, the grumbling know-it-all pundit complained. The two gentlemen callers competed to offer the sweetest encomiums to their wives and daughters. As we noted, Dowd omitted a central point; the hen-pecked hopefuls were discussing their wives because the moderator, Bob Schieffer, had asked them to do so! But you know Dowd! She complained about the hopefuls ways while disappearing her hapless colleague and the utterly pointless, waste-of-time question that led to the hopefuls remarks.
But of course, it was all part of Dowds endless message—We pundits are smarter than they are. Dowd is always ready to type that tale—and she can type it flat or she can type it round, as she has now brilliantly shown when it comes to the candidates wives. Last January, as a matter of fact, Dowd was trashing ol dumb-ass, Howard Dean. What had Dean done that was so deeply wrong? Of course! He hadnt brought his wife on the trail! Heres a good chunk of her clowning:
DOWD (1/15/04): The doctors Dean seem to be in need of some tips on togetherness and building a healthy political marriage, if that's not an oxymoron.Hiss! Me-ow! Meow—hiss—spit!! The vacuous pundit was deeply displeased by Judith Deans coiff and her lack of adornment (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/15/04). Meanwhile, Dowds overall judgment was quite apparent. Two wives were dumb because they were campaigning. Meanwhile, Deans wife was dumb because she wasnt! And then, last week, Dowd flipped again. In January, she rolled here eyes at Candidate Dean because he wasnt discussing his wife. Last week, she stamped her feet at Kerry and Bush because they discussed theirs too much.
Can you see the emptiness of the people who sit at the top of your national discourse? Hiss! Meow! Meow—hiss—spit!! Dowd is an empty, aimless soul. What have we done to deserve our fate? Why does Dowds empty fraternal order sit at the top of our discourse?
THOMAS SPOTS A PROBLEM: Media Matters has chronicled pundit views of Mary Cheneys troubling orientation. Conservatives equated Mary Cheney's sexual orientation with abortion, adultery, alcoholism, and now obesity, one recent headline says. But mainstream scribes arent trend-setters on this matter, either—which helps explain why Kerrys ill-advised comment got the play it did in the press. On yesterdays Imus, Newsweeks Evan Thomas opined on this matter. Evan Thomas is thoroughly mainstream—and here was his view of the incident:
THOMAS (10/19/04): My guess is that [Kerry] was doing it on purpose, that he just thought, you know, this is a good way to take a shot to stir up the right and make them, you know—sow confusion among the enemy and make them—you know, they want to dampen down Christian turn-out...And I think it back-fired because I think it just offended an awful lot of people who say you just dont talk about peoples kids when theyve got a problem. And I think that—I get the sense that the Bush campaign is doing pretty good these days, that theyre ticking up a little bit in the polls, and I think that Kerrys mistake there at the end of that third debate was important.We tend to agree with Thomas political analysis. We would guess that Kerry made his remark as part of a strategy, and it seems fairly obvious that the remark has back-fired—has helped Bush, not Kerry. But why did pundits treat this matter in the way they did? In part, because they see Mary Cheneys orientation as a problem—as something you just shouldnt talk about. Result? Its Kerry who now has a problem—in part because he made a bad guess about what mainstream pundits might have thought.